Chaplain's thought for the week
Revd Tom reflects on Remembrance
This year we particularly remember the Third Battle of Ypres which took place one hundred years ago during the First World War. At our service today (and on Thursday for the Junior School) we remembered Old Exonian Second Lieutenant Stanley Hannaford of East Lancashire Regiment, whose name added to the memorial in the Chapel this year and a wreath laid at his grave during the Lower Fifth Battlefields trip. Stanley Hannaford was killed in the 3rd Battle of Ypres on 5 October 1917.
It has become known as the Battle of Passchendaele, the name of a village which lay close by to where the battle was fought, but also as a reference to the sufferings of Jesus Christ, known as the Passion of the Lord. This refers to the fact that battle itself could be likened to a crucifixion of the innocent: there was huge loss of life and the men had to endure dreadful muddy conditions, after the heaviest rain for 30 years. The ground became so bad that men drowned in it. Siegfried Sassoon wrote: ‘I died in Hell, they called it Passchendaele’. It is hard to imagine the conditions.
On each visit to the battlefields in France and Belgium I’m always most struck by the graves of the unknown soldiers which simply ‘Known Unto God’. This wording was chosen by the author Rudyard Kipling, who lost his own son in that conflict and whose body was not discovered. The motivation behind these three short words is the horrifying thought that as human beings we could be wiped out from the face of the earth and completely forgotten. It’s so important to us that we’re known, that we’re called by name, that someone will remember us. There’s comfort in the fact that even if no-one else in the whole universe knows, those men are known unto God.
This, of course, is what Remembrance is all about. Though countless people have been killed in the service of their country, lives cut short by war, God will not forget them. God will keep their names alive. We can’t possibly remember each one ourselves, and some will sadly be forgotten to history, but that doesn’t meant that they aren’t held in God’s love. Our job is to gather at Remembrance to affirm that fact: to affirm just how precious each one of them was and that they are still known unto God.
There is reminder here, I think, that each one of us is also known unto God; each one of us is infinitely precious. This is why Remembrance has much to teach us: if we don’t leave a Remembrance service recognising that each other person we meet is special, if we don’t value ourselves more highly, then perhaps we haven’t remembered at all. Those we remember can teach us how truly special each human life actually is.